Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, 6, 7, & 8 October

Tennessee, next to last state. We need to get half-way across to visit an old friend of Jean's. We got underway at about 10:40. Weather was sunny and cold, the front has finally passed  us. We arrived in Tullahoma about 5:00. We began off the interstate, and never got back on. What a relief! No trucks.

We went through farm country (cotton and soybeans) and small towns. We don't cover as many miles, but it is more relaxed.

Having arrived at a reasonable hour, we could settle down for lots of conversation and a home-cooked meal (fairly rare on a trip like this).

 Next morning, our hosts took us to an old mill which has been converted to a good restaurant for lunch.  After a pleasant meal (the women had Mimosas, the men were driving) we walked out and saw the pond and the flume --- the turbine has been removed and is displayed in the parking area. Then we bid them our fond adieus and headed northeast to catch up with Gene's brother and his wife.

This part of Tennessee is hilly. It makes for more pleasant driving.

We didn't get back on an interstate until just before Harriman (where brother Mike lives). To begin with, we got a late start, then we crossed the last time zone (immediately lost an hour), and then we got turned around a little in Harriman. So  we finally got together with them at Cracker Barrel about 8:00 o'clock. More conversation, to the point that we closed the place down. Mike and Heidi went home and we stayed in the Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night.

Rain overnight. After  having breakfast in the restaurant, we headed out on the last leg home. The last leg always seems to be the longest. It didn't help that we were in and out of rain all day --- and it was cold. We saw that the trees were beginning to change; it was definitely time to get home.

After a late lunch in a rural Subway, we drove into the yard at 6:27, home at last.

This is actually being written on October 9, so we wish you all a Happy Leif Eiriksson Day.

Some statistics for those that may be interested:

Total number of days: 45
Miles driven: 10,193
Fuel consumed: 543 gallons (priced from $3.29 to $4.89)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday, 5 October

Another straight travel day. We're feeling the attraction of home.

Woke to the sound of light rain. That soon turned into heavy rain and thunder. It was also cold again. The storm has caught up with us. When it was time to pick up our gear and head out, Gene found that the power pole and the shore cable were in a big puddle. He flipped off the breaker and was then able to recover the gear. All of it needed to be cleaned and dried before it could be stowed.

We got underway early for us (9:45). We stopped down the road a bit and had a hot breakfast, then found a Walmart to pick up the other two prescriptions that weren't ready yesterday.

Back on the road, we eventually got ahead of the rain, into cloudy but windy weather. Then we even saw some blue sky and warm weather. It was interesting to see the usual progress of a cold front run in reverse.

There were warnings of road work with delays ahead, so Jean found us a parallel road, which we took. It was the first time since Los Angeles that we got off the interstate and drove a country road. We learned that farms in this part of Arkansas grow mostly cotton and soy beans. Just before we got back on the interstate, we stopped at McDonald's for more Coke and a snack. Then Gene took a half-hour nap.

Back on the interstate, the beginnings of the cold front were catching up with us again, --- overcast and some light rain. We hit Memphis at about 6:00 o'clock. Light traffic downtown, a piece of cake; but the outskirts had lots of traffic. Everything settled down in time for us to find our campground. The office was closed until Monday, so we did an after-hours check-in and settled in for the night. We were getting low on water, so Gene set up the water. It began to sprinkle so he decided to fill the tank and then break down the water right away, in case tomorrow began like today. He ended up breaking down the water just as a thunderstorm arrived.

Lots of rain and thunder and much cooler after. Will we drive through it again tomorrow? Will we be playing tag with this cold front all the way home? Keep tuned.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wednesday & Thursday, 2 & 4 October

We may start packing days together, since we are not sight-seeing or visiting anyone for a couple of days.

Wednesday we had breakfast at the campground cafe (the first one we've seen), then headed for Amarillo. We got to Discount Tire by about noon. As suspected, the tire couldn't be repaired, it needed to be replaced. And since the other three tires have 45,000 miles on them, the prudent thing was to replace in matched pairs. After some discussion, Gene opted for a pair of Cooper HT's, 10-ply tires. The advice, based on recent tests by Michelin, was to place them on the rear as actually being safer. So that was what we did. Again, the hardest part of the job seemed to be removing and replacing the spare.

We left the tire place about an hour and a half later and $378 poorer, but with more confidence in our tires. That lasted until we were out of town and into a strong cross-wind. The motorhome was very squirrley and hard to keep tracking straight. This on a high-speed road cluttered with trucks. We stopped at a nearby Information Center and Gene checked tire pressures. He had told them three times that the van took 80 pounds on the rear and 55 on the front. They had moved the left rear tire to the right front to get both new tires on the rear. The rear tires showed 85 pounds --- probably from heat buildup. The right front showed 85 pounds, while the left front had 59 pounds (again, probably from the heat and driving). So Gene bled the right front down to 59 to match the left. On the road again, the motorhome behaved much better, though we were still being knocked around by the strong wind (not unexpected).

The rest of the day went uneventfully, and we managed to run 283 miles and cross into Oklahoma in spite of the delay.

Thursday dawned cold and windy. We both needed to dress warmer than recently. The weather forecast was for a cold front to come through with 15-25 mph winds. It apparently had arrived. It was cold, windy, and overcast as we left the campground. Gene needed to get a number of prescriptions refilled, including two that had expired. We stopped briefly at a Cherokee Trading Post while Gene tried to get the phone number of one of the doctors. No signal.

When we got to El Reno, we found a convenient Super Walmart where we were able to get help from the pharmacist, buy some groceries, get fuel, and get some lunch. They were able to fill one prescription, and got faxes from both doctors, but needed to confirm with them. They said that we could pick up the other two prescriptions at any Walmart along the way. That stop took two hours, but we were all set to scoot for Arkansas.

As we went, the winds seemed to die down. We hit some light rain (at the frontal boundry?) and even saw a little sunshine. In the lighter wind, the Roadtrek was behaving normally. We seemed to be outrunning the cold front. In fact it was quite warm when we checked in to the campground in Arkansas. We hope the front doesn't catch up with us during the night.

The countryside gradually changed from dry flatlands in Texas and much of Oklahoma, to greener, more forested, rolling country in the eastern part of Oklahoma.

In fact, the campground just over the line in Arkansas, was on a creek, interesting enough to rate a picture. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday, 2 October

Today we were heading for Texas. We didn't make it.

About half an hour out of Santa Fe, we got a flat tire. We had pulled over to take a picture; when we were ready to leave there was a low tire warning on the instruments. Gene got out and walked around. The right rear tire was flat. Since we were on a hill, he drove slowly down the shoulder until we were on more or less level ground. Then he called Roadside Assistance.

About an hour and three-quarters later, after a visit from a state trooper, help arrived. (Some adventures are more boring than others.)

It turns out that the hardest thing about changing a tire on a Sprinter is getting the spare out. After some time banging on things and jacking up the side of the van, the tire was retrieved. After that, mounting it on the wheel was a piece of cake. It turns out that the spare (which is a steel wheel, the rest are alloy) requires special lug bolts (which are in the standard tool kit).

Looking at the flat tire, we found a hole in the tread. It looked like it could be repaired until the service guy found a soft spot in the sidewall. Apparently driving on the tire, even slowly, damaged the side wall so that the tire will have to be replaced (which really means two tires will have to be replaced).

Two hours and 45 minutes after calling for help, we were on our way. This part of New Mexico is hilly (or low mountains). The scenery is very pleasant.

When we got back to Interstate 40, we were back on the flats (the Great Plains?). A marker sign said that this is some of the flattest land in the country. Not very scenic.

We checked in to a KOA in Tucumcari, expecting to see NCIS. Jean turned on the TV a few minutes before 7:00 to find the channel and saw the last few minutes of it. It seems it plays at 6:00 in Mountain Time. Grrrr! At least we got to see NCIS-LA.

Tomorrow we drive to Amarillo and buy a couple of tires.

Monday, 1 October

We have a problem. We found a minimal campsite last night --- in a overflow area. This weekend is the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, and there's hardly a campsite available for 100 miles. We decided we needed to get out early and move fast to get clear of the area. That means probably no sight-seeing today.

First problem. We could get online to write last night's blog entry, but it was slooooow! At least as bad as dial-up, maybe worse. By the time we had the blog up and Jean did some necessary banking, we had spent over an hour. Then we had to dump tanks (stand in line) and get more propane. Nights are cold here and we have been running the furnace part of the time. Plus, we needed to get some groceries. End result, we didn't leave Gallup until 1:00 --- and we still had to find the right kind of dog food.

Jean had tracked some down to a Petco in Albuquerque, so off we went. The countryside heading toward Albuquerque featured an endless series of high, steep bluffs on the north side of the road. They were flat on the top, and were varying red and grey sandstone. At about Grants we ran through several miles of lava fields. Then through the hills to Albuquerque.

Thanks to the GPS, we found the pet food store on the north side of town. While Jean was getting the dog food, Gene tried to see if he could get a campsite in Santa Fe. Success! there was a space available at a KOA south of town. Good, we wanted to go to Santa Fe anyway. So off we went.

Santa Fe is a very old town; there is a Trading Post there that claims to have been there since 1603. The town was formally founded in 1609/10. We drove in to the town center and found a parking place outside of the main drag. Gene put two quarters into a parking meter before he discovered it was broken. Being 5:30 at that time, we gambled that no one would check, and walked into the center of the old town.

It certainly has that Colonial Spanish feel. All the buildings look old, mostly adobe types. The shops in them are quite modern (and expensive).

There is a plaza, and down the street the requisite church.

Along the side of the plaza is the old Governor's Mansion (very early 17th century).

After walking around and looking in a couple of shops, we had dinner in an eatery along the plaza; Indian fry-bread tacos.  Then it was time to find our campground in the dark. We were 13 miles south of town. Finding our campsite in the dark was a challenge, including backing into a steel post. One more dent in the back (but just a little one). Next stop, Texas.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sunday, 30 September

Another day, another desert. Yesterday, as we approached Flagstaff, we were driving through trees and shrubs and flowers. Today, east of Flagstaff we might as well be in a different state. The land is flat and the mountains are much farther away. There are no trees occurring naturally. The ground is covered with grass and a few low shrubs. This is the short-grass prairie. We could spot last night's campground miles away because they had planted trees.

The campground was only five miles from Meteor Crater, so that was our first destination. In 1969, when Gene was crossing the country on his motorcycle, he was heading for Meteor Crater when his transmission blew up. So he was finally able to make it 43 years later.

Meteor Crater is an impact crater about 3/4 of a mile in diameter and 700 feet deep. Due, no doubt, to the desert climate it is extremely well-preserved, considering it was formed  about 50,000 years ago.  There is a visitor center, a museum, a 10-minute film (made from about 3 minutes worth of film), and guided tours are offered. We looked at the crater and saw the film, then pressed on.

Driving across the flat-land, we decided to stop for a quick look at the petrified forest. We ended up spending about three hours.

 On entering the park, the first thing you see is the dramatic part of the Painted Desert. Where there has been extensive erosion, it has revealed that beneath the flat, dull surface are layers in different colors, mostly reds and greys. Thus the name.

At the southern end of the park are the petrified trees. The area was once apparently fairly swampy and well forested. As the trees died and fell, they became buried in the sand so that normal decay was stopped and the cellulose in the tree was gradually replaced by silicas. Eventually erosion revealed the trees, now turned to stone.

The ground in places is littered with broken pieces of trees, and even logs.

The ends reveal different colors of hard material, which can be polished to reveal shapes and colors.

By the time we left the park, it was time to find a campsite. We did make it out of Arizona just across the border to Gallup. Tomorrow, New Mexico.